One of the stereotypes we hope to break here at Alma Coffee is the idea that café espresso beverages are exclusively for coffee experts.
When you first walk in to any coffee shop as a new coffee connoisseur, it’s not long before glancing at the menu triggers a certain level of panicked anxiety. Even as seasoned coffee consumers we are often introduced to new types of coffee beverages we never knew were possible. But, there’s no need to panic!
For this week’s Alma-nac blog post, we wanted to walk you through five common espresso drinks we think are staples of any coffee café in order to give you a baseline for expanding or exploring your coffee palate.
Here’s a little secret we'll share before kicking this blog post off: *almost* all espresso-based beverages are essentially the same three ingredients in different (but very specific) proportions—freshly extracted espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam!
Whether you’re a seasoned coffee lover or just discovering how delicious freshly brewed and roasted coffee can be, this blog post is your one-stop-shop for mastering the most popular espresso-based coffee beverages.
Let’s start this blog post with the drink you might have already heard of, and, if you haven’t, stop reading this right now and go order yourself a latte (at Alma’s Pop-Up Café in our GA warehouse)!
The latte, a delicious combination of espresso and steamed milk, has been a staple of coffee culture since at least the early 90s.
Unlike cappuccinos, though, lattes are a bit more open ended as far as the proportion of milk to espresso; however, most sources we’ve read on the topic suggest a 1-to-5 ratio of milk to espresso in a 10-12oz drink.
Regardless of how precisely your local barista ratios their espresso-to-milk, the real appeal of a latte isn’t only how smooth and creamy it is: Latte art, as our in-house latte expert Matt Somsen claims on almost a daily basis, is the real reason this drink has remained so popular.
From the classic latte heart to the more complicated abstract stencil designs, latte art has become an expected staple of the coffee café experience and really has popularized the latte above almost every other drink in its wake.
The Cafe au lait
If espresso isn’t your cup of tea, you might be a fan of the Café Au Lait.
Borrowing from the simplicity of what makes a Latte so popular, the Café Au Lait flips the espresso/steamed milk ratios in a latte and replaces espresso with drip coffee. Instead of 2oz of espresso, Matt, our in-house barista, suggests using 6-10oz of drip coffee with 2oz of steamed milk.
From a tasting perspective, it’s lighter, creamier, and goes very well with darker roasts like our Enchanted Dark Roast.
What is also great about the Au Lait is how malleable it is to new flavor experimentation. In New Orleans, for example, cafés are known to mix Au Laits with chicory, and other parts of the country experiment with native spices and flavors to really maximize the creamy and light body of an Au Lait.
If you don’t want to break the bank investing in a Slayer espresso machine, Au Laits are a quick and easy way to transfer the steamed milk café experience into your kitchen.
Before this guide gets too complicated, let's talk about one of our favorite café beverages of all time here at Alma Coffee—the Americano.
The Americano is a real-life example of less being more. Instead of steaming milk and worrying about espresso-to-milk proportions, the Americano is simply a single or double shot of espresso with either ice cold or hot water.
In our own climate-controlled warehouse, there is a constant debate about the superiority of iced vs hot Americanos. But, unlike Lattes, Cappuccinos or even Mochas, the flavor of an Americano is a 1:1 reflection of the roast it was brewed with.
Our Essence Espresso Roast, for example, is a subtle balance of Dark Chocolate, Rich Caramel, and Roasted Almonds, and we really think that the flavors come out the most in Iced Americano form.
Regardless of how you take your Americano, this is definitely a drink that is offered at any and every coffee shop and one that you should try at least once (or twice) in your life.
Alright, you’ve read this far, or at the very least skimmed ahead to this section—let's talk about the second most popular espresso beverage you’ll find at any café, the Cappuccino!
All of the beverages we’ve covered are fairly easy to accomplish for a barista at any skill level. However, the line that separates a good and bad Cappuccino is extremely thin, and we highly encourage you to tip your barista more generously if good Cappuccinos are something you want to enjoy.
Similar to a Latte, the Cappuccino is a recipe of precise proportions. After combing the internet and reading several different latte experts weigh in on how to make a good Cappuccino, the magic formula seems to be a 1:1:1 ratio, with 1-part espresso, 1-part steamed milk, and 1-part dry milk foam.
We will definitely dedicate an entire blog post one of these days to steamed milk and how one goes about making milk foam “dry” or “wet.” For now, however, it’s important to know that dry milk foam is the crucial ingredient that separates a Cappuccino from its other variants, namely the Flat White.
The 1:1:1 proportion ratio, on top of making sure the milk foam is dry, makes or breaks the end beverage.
When we say this espresso-based beverage takes a talented barista to get right it really isn’t an exaggeration. As the writer of this blog post and someone who spent his college years behind the counter of a café, I still can’t say I’m confident in my ability to make a good Cappuccino.
However, when you finally have a Cappuccino that’s made exactly the right way, you truly understand and appreciate the hours of practice it took that barista to get their cappuccino skills up to par.
So far, we’ve covered four of the most common and popular espresso beverages you can find at your favorite local coffee shops. But, we would be doing you a disservice by not including the fifth and final addition to this blog post—the Mocha.
Imagine adding a shot of espresso to a hot chocolate, wouldn’t that be nice?
The Mocha is a good starting point for someone that is “coffee curious,” or, in other words, someone who likes all of the caffeine benefits of coffee without a strong coffee flavor.
Essentially, a Mocha is a Latte with a chocolate syrup base. Depending on where you get your Mocha and what chocolate syrup is used, the proportion of syrup to espresso to milk may vary. Here at Alma, for example, we make our own chocolate syrup base for our Mochas from scratch, so we train our staff to use 1-2 tablespoons depending on the drink order size.
But, regardless of how you make it, the recipe is fairly easy to accomplish and is beloved by virtually everyone in the coffee industry on cold winter nights.
We really think our Passion Roast belongs in a Mocha, mainly because the Caramel notes blend so well with a chocolate syrup and steamed milk base.
If all of the other drinks we talked about in this blog post didn’t really excite you, the Mocha is a great jumping off point before you try your first Cappuccino or Café Au Lait.
Regardless of your experience with espresso-based beverages, we hope this blog post serves as a good foundational guide for exploring espresso and steamed milk beverages.
To wrap this blog up, our advice is to try things you’ve never heard of before. We are still surprised by what a few talented baristas can create with just steamed milk and espresso, but we've barely scratched the surface of possibilities in this blog: we didn't even get the chance to talk about coffee cocktails (but we definitely will soon!)
Until next week’s blog, drop a comment below and let us know what your favorite espresso beverage is! If you have any questions about how to make any of the drinks you read about, don't hesitate to ask-we'd love to help!
Written by: Kelley Bostian